Social Solidarity as an Effect of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

It's standard sociological theory that a group experiences social solidarity in response to external conflict. This paper studies the phenomenon in the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Conflict produces group solidarity in four phases: (1) an initial few days of shock and idiosyncratic individual reactions to attack; (2) one to two weeks of establishing standardized displays of solidarity symbols; (3) two to three months of high solidarity plateau; and (4) gradual decline toward normalcy in six to nine months. Solidarity is not uniform but is clustered in local groups supporting each other's symbolic behavior. Actual solidarity behaviors are performed by minorities of the population, while vague verbal claims to performance are made by large majorities. Commemorative rituals intermittently revive high emotional peaks; participants become ranked according to their closeness to a center of ritual attention. Events, places, and organizations claim importance by associating themselves with national solidarity rituals and especially by surrounding themselves with pragmatically ineffective security ritual. Conflicts arise over access to centers of ritual attention; clashes occur between pragmatists deritualizing security and security zealots attempting to keep up the level of emotional intensity. The solidarity plateau is also a hysteria zone; as a center of emotional attention, it attracts ancillary attacks unrelated to the original terrorists as well as alarms and hoaxes. In particular historical circumstances, it becomes a period of atrocities.

This certainly makes sense as a group survival mechanism: self-interest giving way to group interest in face of a threat to the group. It's the kind of thing I am talking about in my new book.

Paper also available here.

Posted on April 27, 2011 at 9:10 AM • 16 Comments

Comments

BF SkinnerApril 27, 2011 9:59 AM

A visible sign 'round here was the display of the National ensign. Understand that south of Mason/Dixon? The moron's rag is more, much, commonly flown than the Stars and Stripes. Thier sad devotion to that symbol of human monstrosity is most persistent.

PubliusApril 27, 2011 10:19 AM

Empires needs permanent wars. This way the population keeps their heads down and mouths quiet regarding the government's criminal behaviors.

My own mother -- and how many other mothers? -- actually thinks we need the government to break our own laws for our protection, against the terrorists.

Andre LePlumeApril 27, 2011 10:27 AM

From the abstract, it looks like another atheoretical set of just-so stories.

Sigh.

kashmarekApril 27, 2011 10:34 AM

This is the type of solidarity that is trying to be broken by recently introduced legislation to ban health care & services for the 9/11 responders.

Soc101April 27, 2011 10:48 AM

The article purporting to discuss 9/11 was published in 2004 and is clearly wrong in many respects. Here are the opening lines of the abstract:

http://septembereleven2001.files.wordpress.com/...

"Conflict produces group solidarity in four phases: (1) an initial few days of shock and idiosyncratic individual reactions to attack; (2) one to two weeks of establishing standardized displays of solidarity symbols; (3) two to three months of high solidarity plateau; and (4) gradual decline toward normalcy in six to nine months."

#1 is wrong because the reactions of shock to the attack have lasted a decade, not a few days.
#4 is wrong because after a decade there has yet to be a decline to normalcy.

The study is nonutilitarian focusing on the rituals of solidarity and security instead of trying to categorize and analyze real versus ritual group actions.

PeterApril 27, 2011 10:50 AM

I don't have access to the paper, but this sounds like a description of one specific event than a summary of general results. I can think of several terrorist events that don't fit this pattern at all - in fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one, perhaps two, that do[es].

GreenSquirrelApril 27, 2011 11:02 AM

*if* we take the study to be correct, doesnt it also imply that Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya should be experiencing "solidarity" as a result of external factors?

StevenApril 27, 2011 1:04 PM

"Moreover, As America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat."

- Zbigniew Brzezinski, "The Grand Chessboard"

JeroenApril 27, 2011 1:10 PM

@GreenSquirrel: Only if you consider "a group" as a synonym for "country", which in practice is incorrect. The conflicts in the countries you name have indeed resulted in solidary within groups. Not groups delimited by any nation's boundaries, but groups delimited by tribe, religion or ideology.

The claim that the War on Terror's main result is producing more terrorists fits this view.

JeroenApril 27, 2011 1:16 PM

Also, this reminds me of that infamous Hermann Goering quote (edited for brevity, and assuming he did say it):

"Naturally the common people
don't want war. But it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Richard Steven HackApril 27, 2011 1:58 PM

"self-interest giving way to group interest in face of a threat to the group"

Actually, if you reread that abstract, it lists numerous examples of self-interest interfering with the group solidarity:

1) participants become ranked according to their closeness to a center of ritual attention.

2) Events, places, and organizations claim importance by associating themselves with national solidarity rituals and especially by surrounding themselves with pragmatically ineffective security ritual.

3) Conflicts arise over access to centers of ritual attention;

4) clashes occur between pragmatists deritualizing security and security zealots attempting to keep up the level of emotional intensity. "

Finally, I have to agree that as "social science", this is pathetic. It's a mere list of observed behaviors. Duh! Am I now a "social scientist" because I've read the same newspapers for ten years?

This is why I treat all such stuff as basically hand waving. We understand human behavior on the individual level by understanding neural structure and cognitive functioning. We understand human behavior on the large scale via economics and anthropology. This "social science" stuff is make work for liberal arts people who can't do real science.

Dirk PraetApril 27, 2011 6:48 PM

It would seem to me that the biggest solidarity seen in response to 9/11 was that between the government and the military-industrial complex, as a result of which a happy few became even more powerful and made even more money at the expense of all others they were pretending to protect.

GreenSquirrelApril 28, 2011 6:47 AM

@Jeronen

Excellent point and it is indeed (IMHO) the case that external aggression does cause solidarity within groups when it is used in its proper context - as you point out, "group" has no need to be exactly mapped to a national boundary. Some groups will be sub-national and some supra-national.

The 11 September 2001 attack did create solidarity in groups within the US, even if it didnt create a national solidarity. The same has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and appears to be happening in Libya.

It does kind of point to the fact that using military force is doomed to failure.

unwashedApril 28, 2011 12:44 PM

@Soc101

I think a lot of the decline, or lack thereof, in that "solidarity" has to do with both the physical proximity to NYC, and also the emotional (victim relationships) proximity to the attack.

A friend of mine in Philadelphia is still concerned about terrorist attacks, even though he didn't suffer any losses from 9/11. I am way out in the mountain time zone, and far enough away from potential "targets", and am not worried about it.

I am actually glad the intensity of the attack has subsided over time, but with the 10-year anniversary approaching, I fear that the pressure to "be one of us, or you are against us" mantra will surface again.


larsApril 29, 2011 9:27 AM

The physical proximity issue is a strange one. We live twenty miles from Ground Zero and have recovered a pragmatic sense of security...my relatives in the midwest and far west are still vaguely hysterical.

At the risk on invoking Godwin, I recall that Hitler was overcome by the remarkable solidarity he felt on the day WW1 was declared...(reference currently unavailable, but also seen in a famous photograph).

http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/...

Imperfect CitizenMay 1, 2011 6:03 PM

@Dirk Praet

It looks like it as a target of the domestic terror program.

@lars

I think you are right about geographical hysteria.

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